After years of lobbying efforts, the marijuana industry was allowed to expand its operations into Vermont as Gov. Phil Scott allowed S. 54 to become law without his signature. While there is plenty to be concerned about when it comes to marijuana commercialization, Vermont’s commercialization bill offers one promising aspect that leaders here in Colorado should consider: it limits THC potency in marijuana products.

According to Vermont’s new law, marijuana flower cannot exceed 30% THC, the psychoactive chemical that gets a user “high.” Furthermore, concentrates such as waxes and dabs cannot exceed 60% THC. And oils, outside of vape pens, will not be allowed.

In Colorado, marijuana potency is unlimited — to the concern of most scientists.

A 2018 study out of the Netherlands shines light on why such policy is worth having in this new law, and why Colorado lawmakers should consider adopting it. In this study, researchers found that marijuana potency doubled from just below 9% THC in 2000 to above 20% by 2004. This drastic increase was followed by a rise in the amount of people seeking treatment for marijuana issues. When the potency declined to 15% in 2015, treatment admissions for marijuana issues fell. All told, the researchers estimated that for every 3% increase in THC potency, one person in 100,000 would seek first-time treatment for marijuana use disorder.

These findings among others led the Netherlands to cap marijuana potency at 15%.

It is important to note that we are in uncharted territory when it comes to the use of today’s super potency marijuana, at times even 99%. The pot industry has continually churned out stronger, more powerful forms of marijuana and recent data has shown that the use dabs and vaping have skyrocketed here in Colorado over the last few years.

While this is occurring in the background, there is a growing scientific consensus that the use of high potency marijuana has much higher risk of harm. For example, a study released last year found that users of higher potency marijuana were more than five times as likely to develop a severe mental illness such as schizophrenia or psychosis.

Greater risk of dependence, greater risk of serious mental illness — is there perhaps a benefit to pain sufferers.

Pain, outside some very specific and rare forms of epilepsy, is generally the only medical condition where there exists more than just anecdotal evidence that marijuana use could be beneficial. The only issue is that a study published this year found that 90% of marijuana products sold as “medical” marijuana featured THC levels in excess of 15% — which is about two to three times higher than the amount shown in studies to provide neuropathic pain relief.

Furthermore, the authors of this study recommended that “medical” marijuana regimes impose a THC potency limit of 10% or less to reduce the risk of short and long-term side effects.

The science is clear: high potency marijuana is linked to serious mental illness, dependence, and other public health hazards. Colorado lawmakers could be national leaders on a much-needed public health issue by following Vermont’s lead in instituting a marijuana potency cap. Of course — much as they have made clear in Vermont — the pot lobby will always oppose this. They are, by definition, an addiction-for-profit industry and this must be considered when writing regulations.

At a time when we are all putting science and public health first, our state Legislature should demonstrate its continued commitment next session by enacting legislation to reduce marijuana’s unprecedented potency in Colorado.

Luke Niforatos is a resident of Denver and serves as executive vice president of Smart Approaches to Marijuana.

Luke Niforatos is a resident of Denver, Colorado and serves as Executive Vice President of Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM).


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